Saturday, July 29, 2006

Unjustified Expectations of Sagacity--or--the Ricky Martin Connundrum

Your beloved Blot, high on the plaudits of fellow Liverputtians, had planned a searing essay on the vicissitudes of life in the former East Germany, when he ran into an inconvenient fact: he did not know enough and was too lazy to research it thoroughly. Therefore he--I, for we are the same person--has chosen the path of the poorly-researched, unbalanced, and misinformed screed.

A week or so ago, Scott Rasmussen released a survey revealing that Angelina Jolie had, at 46%, a significantly higher approval rating than the president. My first reaction, without thinking, was "Gee, that's not bad in this season of anti-incumbency". For those of you who have been living under a rock the past few years, Ms. Jolie is a highly respected world leader, having been named a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations, placing her on the same rarefied plateau of international adulation and respect as Ricky Martin (another profound thinker). The line between artist and entertainer is notoriously difficult to delineate, and I am not going to start now. Except to say that some, most notably Keanu Reeves, are neither.

The beginning of the expectation both of, and from artists, that they not only have opinions of current events, but that it matters that they have them, and that they should publish them as broadly as possible, probably begins with Ludwig van Beethoven in 1803. Never a shy man, Beethoven was a strong republican (small r, not big R) and ardent supporter of Napolean. Having several times in letters praised Napolean's efforts at legal and social reforms as First Counsel of the French Republic, Beethoven dedicated his third symphony "Eroica"(that means heroic, not erotic, you adolescent sickos!) to the French dictator.

In 1804, Napolean, seeking the approval of the crowned heads of Europe, crowned himself Emporer of France. Beethoven, upon hearing the news, variously either viciously erased the name of Napolean at the top of the title page, or tore it in half (depending upon the teller of the tale), exclaiming "Now he will be worse than all of the rest of them." Ludwig, a brilliant man in his own bailiwick, had somehow not understood in the previous decade of imperialistic expansion, and personal power grabs, that Napolean was probably not the great republican that the self-appointed intelligentsia of Europe considered him to be. (In my experience, the intelligentsia are almost always self-appointed--no one else being intellectually qualified to do it).

In the years leading up to WWII, many artists of Jewish descent, as well as socialist or communist-sympathetic artists, fled Nazi Germany and Austria. They are generally applauded for their clear-headed analysis of the likely direction of the Nazi movement. With all due respect to these often fantastically gifted men and women; if one were Jewish, Socialist, or Communist, and did not leave Hitler's Germany immediately after the all-encompassing Enabling Act of 1934, one was quite, quite foolish. It was less generally clear for non-political, 'aryan' artists that Hitler would either co-opt them, or destroy them. It was not even clear until 1939 to the other European heads-of-state, that Hitler wanted the world, or as much of it as he could get. By then it was too late for most artists--or anybody else, for that matter--to leave.

Emile Nolde, a painter (and father) of the Expressionist school, was, in the 1920's, very impressed with the Nazi mythology of the Germanic Folk, finding it compatible with his own personal philosphy. He had authored several anti-Semitic statements, and claimed that Expressionism was a uniquely 'Germanic' school. He supported the Nazi regime in the beginning, hoping, although Hitler as a failed artist was open in his hatred of modern "ugly" art, that Nolde's support of the regime would somehow spare him. He was wrong. His paintings were slowly expunged from museum collections and added, in 1937, to the exhibition of "Degenerate Art". He was personally forbidden to paint from 1941 on. After the war, because of his persecution by the Nazis, he was rapidly rehabilitated, and honored.

Arno Breker, a young, extremely gifted sculptor, was entranced by the highly visual, art-deco styling of Nazi propaganda, although little is known of his personal political opinions. He made the decision to leave Paris, where one of his chief admirers, Jean Cocteau, had considered him one of the most important young artists of the era, and return to Berlin. There he fell rapidly under the sponsorship and tutelage of Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, and became Hitler's 'favorite' sculptor. The young man donned an SS uniform to personally escort Hitler and Göring around newly-occupied Paris in 1940 to take stock of the treasure trove of captured artworks. A sculptor of breathtaking technical ability, if less than breathtaking taste, his polished neo-classical realism fit well with the plastic creation of the idealized Nazi Superman. Just this week a retrospective opened of his surviving works (being a monumental sculptor, closely affiliated with Speer, 90% of his wartime and prewar statues and friezes were destroyed either during or in the immediate aftermath of WWII). This has occasioned great strife and discourse, calming down in the past couple of days into a long-delayed appraisal of Breker as an artist. Breker as a man has not been, and probably never will be fully understood.

Hugo Distler was, in 1933, a brilliant, completely unknown church musican and composer, only 25 years of age. He was far too obscure, and probably too naive to understand what the next decade would bring. One of my favorite composers of the 20th century, Distler achieved a great deal in his short life. As a devout Protestant, he immediately came under scrutiny by the paganized Nazis. His music, too modern to be a comfort to the Wagner and Bach-loving Hitler, was denounced (like Nolde) in 1937 as 'degenerate'. Despite this early condemnation, Distler continued to compose and somehow continued to rise through the ranks of church musicians, taking in 1942, the position of choir master of the Lutheran Cathedral in Berlin (where Göring had his highly-publicized--and very late--society wedding). Little personal biographical information is known about Distler, which makes it hard to understand how the same year he took a highly visible and prestigous position in the heart of the capitol of the Third Reich, he took his own life at the age of 34. Ostensibly he was depressed by the ongoing war, the growing numbers of friends who had died, and the increasing likelihood of his being conscripted and sent to the meat grinder of the Russian front. It has also been speculated that he could not deal with the increasingly obtrusive Nazi Party demands on his compositional and performing output. Whatever the reason...and because of his relative obscurity, we will never know...Germany and the world lost a great talent--probably equal in abilty to the best the twentieth century had to offer.

There are other, more famous examples of artists who ignored the Fascist menace; stayed, and in some cases, throve: Leni Riefenstahl, Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Pietro Mascagni in Italy, and Ezra Pound, American poet, and Fascist apologist.
P.G. Wodehouse, a brilliant and almost completely apolitical writer, was caught in the French collapse of 1940 and spent the war in an internment center in Moravia. He did a series of lightly comic radio essays for the Nazis during the war, to be beamed to England. He did not, apparently, understand that they would be used as propaganda, and was deeply hurt after the war to find himself no longer welcome at home. He spent several years in lightly comic exile on Long Island, before finally being rehabilitated in the eyes of the British public.

I did not mean for this to be just about artists and fascism, but communism is another, and even larger topic. Research then rears its ugly head. And I'm lazy.

Being an artist has come to mean, over the past couple of hundred years, a complete intellectual and artistic investment in the human condition, rather than a narrow, but inspired exploration of pure art, in whatever medium. Mao considered art not have any existence outside of a political context. Unfortunately, more and more people seem to be convinced of that fantastically erroneous precept. Art can exist for Art's sake, alone. Artists, while brilliant and insightful in their own fields, when forced to give intellectual analysis of world events, are almost always in over their heads. I don't mean to excuse the actions of those who stayed behind. Most are to be pitied. But I do think that this ridiculous expectation that artists and entertainers be political sages as well, should find itself a rapid end.

What makes the opinions of Angelina Jolie, Tim Robbins, Charlton Heston, Ed Asner, Chris Ofili, Daniel Barenboim, or the Dixie Chicks so valuable? They are neither significantly better informed, nor even marginally more intelligent than the general public; merely more prominent. The artists of the Third Reich were, unless personally threatened, equally unlikely to accurately judge the tenor of the times. It is thus unfair to put poor, inoffensive Ricky Martin in front a TV camera and ask him about the operations and aims of the World Health Organization. It's not his thing, and we should stop expecting him to make it so. Let him go back to being all ambiguous and androgynous, and apparently irresistible to teenage girls (as mystifying and disturbing as that may be). Ms. Jolie has a 46% approval rating. If she had ever been elected to anything, that might matter.

Screedily Yours,

Escutcheon Blot

P.S. I really am going on vacation now. I will be away from my desk until September. Happy August.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What's this? Activity at the Frontal Lobe?

Finknottle is still MIA, but his Assistant, poor soul, is filling in for him. I'm afraid that Finknottle's curious mind powers (effective on the weak willed) have bamboozled the lad into thinking Finknottle is some type of "good fellow" as he told me one time. How his Assistant can stand the odor from being around Gus is beyond me, but then, my cat prefers my smelly socks.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Finknottle has a lot to learn about responsibility

And, incidentally, personal hygiene – but that’s neither here nor there. Although the Liverputty offices have had no contact with the columnist, himself, we have been in sporadic contact with his Assistant (hapless soul), who is traveling with Finknottle. He assures us that Finknottle is intent on returning at the earliest possible moment, though we are not exactly sure when that might be. In the interim, His Assistance promises to file a report on their status when the opportunity arises. We shall see.

We appreciate his readers’ patience during his absence and only wish that Finknottle was considerate enough to share that appreciation.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mysteries of the Human Condition: Nanook of the North and Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life

Preferring factual to fictional storytelling, I enjoyed viewing these two titles identified as some of the first documentaries filmed. When the double feature concluded, rather than coming away with a pure documentary experience, I had many questions about the differences between fiction and non-fiction and the meanings of ‘documentary’ and ‘feature’.

Nanook of the North (1922) is a noteworthy film. Witnessing the lives of an Eskimo tribe firsthand is fascinating, disturbing, perplexing, disgusting and at times, funny. It is a poignant portrayal of life.

Robert J. Flaherty, the explorer turned filmmaker, explains in an introductory text that Nanook was not his first attempt to film the Eskimo tribe. He filmed during a previous expedition, capturing random events while he lived with them. Returning home, he developed and edited together this first collection of film. When the editing was near completion, the film caught fire and “all was lost.” Whether this destruction was intentional or accidental is not clear, as Flaherty says that he felt the completed film was not good due to the lack of narrative.

Reconsidering his objective, he decided to focus his attention on one family of Eskimos, and so he returned to film once more. His aim was to bring an emotional and personal aspect to the new film that the first attempt lacked.

Although the ‘story’ of Nanook’s family is unscripted, Flaherty approached them with a preconceived idea of what he would film. Accounting for decisions about what would and would not be filmed, the notion that he has captured ‘real life’ becomes vague. The Eskimos look directly at the camera, aware that they are being filmed. Flaherty even brought film processing equipment with him, so he could develop and view the reels as he shot them. The Eskimos viewed the reels as well and understood what was going on.

Furthermore, Flaherty intended to create a ‘feature’ film, as ‘features’ were popular in theaters at the time. He included aspects of features in his work such as dramatic narrative, characters with personalities, conflicts and resolutions. At 79 minutes, it was considered ‘feature length’ at the time. Flaherty simply chose to use unscripted, uncostumed non-actors in a natural setting. Long after its completion, others labeled Nanook as a documentary.

The difference between feature and documentary is even more blurred in Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life. The film shows thousands of animals and ‘Forgotten People’ traversing vast deserts and towering mountains, migrating to greener pastures. The first characters shown in the film are the filmmakers, themselves, because during the film, they were behind the camera. It was thoughtful of them to feature themselves at the beginning.

Merian Cooper, the explorer who conceived the idea (not long after Nanook was created) to film the migration, is dressed in safari hat and smokes a pipe as he peers into the camera with a stern, thoughtful expression. Seated next to him is the boyishly handsome Ernest B. Schoedsack who, instead of looking into the camera, never takes his eyes off Merian. They silently banter in a masculine way that raises the eyebrows of those of us who know certain things. A third person is presented, separate from the two men. Marguerite Harrison, an ‘author and traveler’ is ‘shown here in her role’ of wearing dark lipstick and head scarf and tipping her head in a coy, tartish manner. One can only guess at what sorts of reasons Marguerite was included with the two men in the expedition. All of them come off as posers.

As in Nanook, witnessing the tribulations of native people living primitive lives is horrifying, enthralling, but really not at all humorous unless one is a person who would find amusement in seeing animals whipped and forced into incredibly harsh terrains. Referred to as the ‘Forgotten People’ of the East, the beduoin tribe is the focus of the film.

The titles throughout Grass provide more insights about the filmmakers’ attitudes rather than the film’s subjects. The migrants are regarded as objects of study, presented by the filmmakers to an audience like themselves, an audience that would be able to complete the phrase: “Everywhere that Mary went...” Joking remarks such as this appear between scenes of terrific hardship and make light of the agonizing journey, turning it into an awe-inspiring spectacle. It is the Victorian attitude about discovering, naming and classifying all of the oddments of the world for the entertainment of the well-to-do. King Kong. After viewing barelegged women and small children treading through swift moving rapids, we are reminded that “BRRRR! This water’s COLD!”

As the tribe is named ‘Forgotten People’, they are not attributed with any nationality or ethnicity. Only the tribe’s leader and his son are named, leaving the rest of the people in an ambiguous herd very much like the goats. Flaherty’s focus on Nanook’s family evokes a personal sympathy with the native people, which Cooper’s Grass lacks. Unfortunately, it helps this viewer understand how First World people can view Third World people as less than human. They live with and like animals.

The overreaching question, however, is: How in the hell can people live like this? The author, residing in rural Oklahoma, fully comprehends the paradoxical irony of this question. Regardless of the fiction/factual axiom in these films and despite the rough treatment of animals, they ultimately serve as a testament to the endurance and resourcefulness of mankind.

Where is Finknottle!?

His column is one of the few I read these days. Did the well of questions run dry? Did the bounty on his head pay off? Did his Beirut vacation go awry? Must I settle for Ann Landers?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

In Defense of Dilettantes

After the recent, and very untimely death of a dear friend, it was related by another friend the day after her memorial service, that she had never settled on a 'career' per se, as she had so many interests. She just wanted to be a dilettante...meaning it in the positive sense...and explore many fields. I nearly launched into a lecture then and there, but my added years have taught me the wisdom of saying little or nothing, when saying much would be inappropriate(sometimes, of course, I still blather on and on).

Dilettantism has become a slur in modern English, and indeed in other European far as I know them. Most dictionaries today define it as a broad but shallow knowledge of a subject, i.e...a know-it-all who cannot actually do any of it (whatever it happens to be). I knew that the earlier meaning was not nearly so perjorative, but looked it up anyway in my 1865 Italian dictionary. Dilettante comes from the verb dilettare, meaning to take delight (in something). It was defined as 'one who studies the fine arts, or something similar, merely for the delight, or enjoyment of them, rather than to earn money from either the practice or the teaching thereof' (translation mine). Diletto, the noun, means either delight, or beloved.

Throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the beaux arts were filled with amateurs, who honed their crafts to a high pitch...not to make money..rather because the ability to write, sing, play, paint, compose, speak languages, etc., was regarded as an essential accomplishment of the well-rounded lady or gentleman. Some of these men and women, prohibited by their class from taking money for their creative efforts, nevertheless achieved proficiency equal to or surpassing many of their professional contemporaries. It must be said that the dilettanti were all of the middle and upper classes, as to be a professional in the arts (less so in literature) was viewed as scandalous and immoral. Probably because most professional artists were--frankly--scandalous and immoral, judged by the norms of their day.

Today, many of these genteel amateurs are very highly regarded. Michel de Montaigne, Elizabeth I of England (sometimes tipped as the real Shakespeare), Samuel Pepys, the diarist, whose participation in the literary, political, and musical circles of Restoration London are one of the richest sources of that period...all because he was dilettantishly interested in everything. Barbara Strozzi, for my money the greatest female composer ever, almost never performed (she was a great virtuosa singer) outside of private settings, and had her own compositions published under subscription. Much of the chamber music of Baroque greats such as Scarlatti, Handel, and Steffani was written for and performed by wealthy and/or noble amateurs who, through their fees funded the existence of many an independant (no court or church position) composer.

Joseph Haydn, in the employ of the Esterhazy family in Austria, was the most famous composer in Europe. He, needing none of the patronage of other nobles, still entrusted the premier of his favorite vocal composition (and indeed his masterpiece) Arianna a Naxos to the repeated performance of various singing girls in and around Vienna, before playing it himself in its professional debut with the great castrato, Pacchierotti, in London. The inability of a certain amateur composer to deliver, on the other hand, may have given us Mozart's Requiem. The gentleman in question commissioned the work, allegedly, in the intention of passing it off as his own. Mozart died, however, before he could finish it. The work was probably finished by his student, Süssmeyer (which is why the ending is so disappointing after the first 35 or 40 minutes of brilliance), and never delivered to the mystery nobleman.

The most famous Americans of the Revolutionary period were almost all dilettantes in one fashion or another. Benjamin Franklin, trained as a printer, was also an inventor, author, politician, and civic reformer. Thomas Jefferson, trained in law, was one of the greatest writers of English prose, a talented amateur violinst, agricultural reformer, architect, and viticulturalist. And Boston tanner William Billings, with one eye, one good leg, and arms of unequal length, was the self-taught composer of the Revolution, writing the great marching song, Chester, as well as the first masterpiece of American music, When Jesus Wept.

But in the 18th century things began to change. Jane Austen often mocked the 'accomplishments' of young ladies as pretentious, pedantic and shrill (who can forget Mary Bennett's domination of conversations and premeditated assaults upon unoffending fortepianos?). The popular taste began to shift towards allowing professionals to do something well, rather than the (often mistaken) impression of an amateur performance being, of necessity, a poor performance. The Romantic artists helped this impression along, creating the cult of 'artiste' as a rarified, suffering individual floating far above the plane of ordinary, mortal existence.

This worship-and-adore-me-from-afar arrogance was cultivated by artists such as Paganini, Byron (who mocked amateur friends when they waxed poetical), Liszt, and seminally, by Goethe, whose Sorrows of Young Werther in 1775 created the image of the fatuous, self-involved, modern artist. One of the great scandals in Anne Brontë's Tenant of Wildfell Hall is that the young lady has the temerity to make a living from selling her paintings. In Wilkie Collins' No Name, the degredation of the younger daughter is complete when she goes onto the stage to earn money, after her parent's death. And Edith Wharton's snide The Dilettante speaks for itself.

Searching the web the last few days under the word dilettante, I came up with a depressingly large number of scurrilous definitions, as per the one at the top of this collumn, and a lot of half shame-faced, half defiant personal blogs, making fun of themselves as jacks-of-all-trades, and masters of none. But it is the blogosphere itself which gives me hope that the 17th and 18th century understanding of dilettante is coming back into fashion. For what are bloggers but modern-day dilettantes? Almost always without direct specialized education, they boldly dive into all conceivable modern day Montaignes. Interest and competence seem to once again matter, rather than a specific University degree, or a years-long apprenticeship. I would like to place myself proudly in the category of the modern dilettanti, were I so assured that I was competent in anything outside of my own profession (ironically: the arts).

I think it's time that we, in regarding the dilettanti, discard 'dilatory', and go back to 'diletto'...delight, beloved.

Escutcheon Blot...amateur writer, painter, and pontificator.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

That generous German pension scheme and other things

Having been on the staff of Liverputty International for over two weeks now--and having met two deadlines--I am now fully vested in the German employees pension and holiday schemes. I will therefore be beginning my contracted 8 weeks of paid vacation...immediately.

I am unsure as to how I will be spending my time, although I will certainly put in at least one week in the Liverputty Corporate Condo on Ibiza. Fortunately tanning is now tax-deductable. Seriously though...we are entering the 6 week do-nothing phase of Western European existence. People drop everything, and have all left town by the first weekend in August at the latest, and are not back until the second week in September. As nobody has air conditioning here, and it does actually get up into the 90's fairly regularly, it's not such a bad idea.

Right now Berlin is still filled with tourists...the World Cup is over, the flags are (mostly) put away, but today is the LOVE PARADE, a sort of dumbed-down Woodstock with bad music for techno fans. The last one had around a million viewers/participants. Next weekend is Christopher Street Day, the European equivalent of Gay Pride--named after Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, where the Stonewall riots occured in the early 70's, sparking the international gay-rights movement. There should be several hundred thousand here for that...only about half of whom will be gay, if past attendance is any guide. It is a popular event here, with families bringing their children to look at the funny men with the big muscles.

I have a word of advice, or maybe it's a request. I made the mistake of walking through the Tiergarten(Berlin's Central Park) yesterday and was accosted twice by idiot tourists. Embarassingly, they were all American students, riding bicycles erratically on foot paths, beeping their silly little horns and acting...well...stupid. One of the most difficult things for an American living in Europe is explaining that all Americans are not like American tourists. All tourists seem to loose their sense of perspective when in a foreign land. Germans are unbearable in Manhattan in August. Actually...existence is unbearable in Manhattan in August.

Here, however, is my request. If you are an American, and are planning to come to Europe, and are planning to be an idiot, please think of those of your fellow countrymen who live here...and don't. Go to South Padre Island, or better yet feels like a foreign country, at any rate.

But enough of my kvetching(not a German word anymore...only Yiddish now).

Bush was here visiting Angela Merkel. From what I have been reading in the blogosphere, Americans seem to be seeing her as the German Margaret Thatcher. That would be a mistake. She is a nice, down-to-earth (already a departure from the Baroness Thatcher), and thoroughly approachable Chancellor (a new word in German--Die Kanzlerin). But she shares power with her political arch-rivals, the Socialists (Thatcher never shared power with anyone!) and has not the maneuvering room to accomplish anything but a few cosmetic reforms and some very real tax increases. This 'grand coalition' may fall apart before the year is out, with new elections bringing a conservative/liberal(libertarian) coalition; but if the current polls hold up, it would bring the same result as now: left/right do nothingism.

The situation is hardly better next door, where the Kreepy Kaczinski Twins have installed themselves as President and Prime Minister of Poland. To be fair, their Catholic-dominated center-right party, Law and Justice, won the elections last fall over the Liberal(libertarian) Donald Tusk (who blew a long-standing lead by appearing over-confident and arrogant); but since then, they have reneged on their promises not to hold the two top offices, and to try to form a coalition with the Liberals. Instead, not willing to cede any power to another strong party, they included two smaller far-right parties who variously (and I kid you not, gentle reader) throw potatoes during parliamentary debates, acknowledge one another with neo-Hitler salutes, and talk openly (this was a cabinet official) of the salutary benefits of gay bashing.

Now Lech has installed his unmarried twin(who lives at home with his aged mother and her equally aged cat) as Prime Minister. Poles are long used to seeing the brothers, who shot to fame as child stars in the the 1960's film "Two who stole the Moon". But it is, from my conversations with friends there, a very distressing situation nonetheless. Imagine if we had as President and Speaker of the House, Macaulay Culkin and his little brother, Not-Macaulay. The soul shivers with anticipatory despair.

But enough of that. Maybe more politics in 8 weeks, when my well-earned vacation is over. I bid you all auf wiedersehen.

Escutcheon Blot

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Red Buttons dies

The obit says he's best remembered as Joe Kelly in Sayonara. To me, he'll forever be Pockets from Hatari.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Finknottle misses third fourth deadline in a row

Liverputty is in a pickle. The burden of having a completely unreliable advice columnist is weighing heavily on our finances. Yet, Mr. Finknottle's columns do show promise of turning a profit, if he can file them on a regular basis. The profits can then be used to resolve Mr. Nottle's many legal entanglements, not only with representatives of Christopher Wren, but also with the governments of France and Norway. Perhaps, someday, Finknottle may be able to return to one of those countries without the threat of incarceration.

Pressed with these legal issues, and suffering from a suspended expense account, Mr. Finknottle has committed himself to producing a column for Thursday some time yet specified. Time will tell if you can fulfill his obligations. We ask for patience on behalf of our readers.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Extremely Dangerous Road

These pics look like they're right out of Clouzot's Wages of Fear. Quick, somebody write a screenplay.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Where are my Finknottles?!?!

I rue the day I won that cursed columnist! I had to draw that pair of eights. Not a dead man's hand, but a deadbeat's hand. Friday comes and goes. No column. Monday. Nothing. And the maid says "Monsieur Firenozzle" is sick and not "receiving." Not that it matters, since he's the king of empty promises. Three columns a week, he says. Phooey! He's a drain on our resources. Weeks after Accounting discovered exorbitant charges at Pillwuzzle's pharmacy, we cut his spending account. Since then....poof! He comes in the office in the morning just long enough to snatch the donuts. Curiously, nobody ever sees him come in, but we know he's been there because there's still a whiff of his foul stench. Though, admittedly, one morning the odor turned out to be a dead mouse behind the cooler. Who could tell the difference? Incidentally, the office didn't even have a mouse problem before he came along. Cursed card game!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

German TV -or- The Keanu Effect

I have been thinking about my promise to talk about the far-left and far-right and their race-based immigration policies, and realized that the topic requires a bit more fact-finding. And having been informed by the legal staff of Liverputty that I was skating on the edge of EU libel laws--much stricter than American regs (that part's actually true)--I feel I had better be more circumspect in the future.

So I'm going to talk about Alf, or as I think of it, the Keanu Effect.

Yes, indeed, Virginia, Alf is still on television here, if not this week then next week perhaps, and certainly I saw a few episodes in passing last month. The thing to remember about shows in translation is that they only have to match the new dialogue with duration and visual content. For any imported sitcom...and the vast majority of sitcoms on German TV are synchronized American ones (the German comedies are mostly virtually-interchangeable sketch shows along the lines of Mad TV, with casts of 3 to 6 good-looking comedic actor/-esses and, apparently, one tired writer with a copy machine--rather like Minimalist's compositional techniques)...the network must first hire a translator to write a german-language script to match the lip movements of the already-filmed show (how's that for an ellipses, Lptty editorial staff?!). This does not mean that they have to translate, word-for-word, the original dialogue. The good ones transliterate.

Alf is a good example of a visually interesting show totally ruined by inept dialogue, which has been more or less saved in transliteration. Put simply, Alf in german doesn't suck. Mostly because the original dialogue has been thrown out the window. This phenomenon can perhaps be best illustrated by its eponymous exemplar, Keanu Reeves. I had, like every red-blooded American Boy, bitterly regretted KR ever since he attempted to expand from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Whereas that role was perfect for him (I can never remember whether he was Bill or Ted), when he attempted to play characters with thoughts or emotions he fell flat on his face. However, his physical comportment on camera is not actually incompatible with acting.

And he looks so good.

In Germany, the new Keanu Reeves came as a pleasant surprise. The german actor providing his voice is subtle, manly, emotional, and above all, intelligent. And Keanu still looks so good. His face, which in english, is as blank a canvas as his voice, becomes in german a wonderfully subtle palatte enlivened by the vocal nuances of his german acting. Rather like tofu, it takes upon itself the flavors of the sauce. As with Alf, an utter banality is rescued when all aural content is thrown out the window.

This doesn't always happen of course. The Nanny is a popular show here, but while all of the Fran-Fine's-Voice jokes are faithfully translated, they chose an actress with a somewhat Kathleen Turneresque timbre. It just doesn't work. And in many shows, so many puns are translated directly, rather than transliterated, that the whole point is lost. There are lots of Huh? moments when the laugh track helpfully informs you something is funny, when there has been absolutely no humor in evidence. Not that that is an unfamiliar experience, even with original sound.

Very clever shows, like The Simpsons or South Park, suffer in translation, I think, because it is simply not possible to be as verbally nimble in german as in english. The short-cuts and short words just don't exist in sufficient profusion. And the meat is, perhaps, too strongly flavored, itself, to gladly accept a new sauce.

So: Alf better, Keanu good, Bart...underwhelming.

Dear readers: if this has entertained you, or piqued your interest, please ask me questions (if not...don't). The subject of transatlanticism is too broad for a dilettante like me to organize and address in a cogent fashion. Cogency is anyway, for me, an undiscovered country.

Yours in disarray,

Escutcheon Blot

P.S. You may have noticed an increased ornamentation of my previously staid prose. I have had a battle with the corporate drones at Liverputty International and won. I will no longer be, in my more archaic moments, expurgated and eviscerated, leaving my best bits on the cutting room floor. A small victory for linguistic non-comformism against journo-corporate newspeak.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Finknottle has graced us with his presence once more

Apparently the threats from our legal department have worked and it turns out that Finknottle would sell the hyde of his own mother to not get deported. We are still not entirely sure where he's from, but his papers are not at all in order.

We had an intervention. We went over his evaluation reports and to say his performance came up short is an overstatement. Copy is routinely submitted late, if at all, and generally so short or so beyond comprehension that it cannot be used. According to recent data, Finknottle has the highest reader suicide rate of all Advice Columnists. His work space is a mess that interrupts the general chi and productivity of the office, particularly his drawers full of narcotics.

And to top it off, his often treats his assistant inhumanely.

So we laid down the gauntlet: More coherent words, a cleaner workspace (the opium can stay for now), and better treatment of his assistant. We realize he is performing a job that Americans would prefer not do, but potential replacements are crossing the border every day.

A little encouraging news coming out of China

The People’s Government is searching for ways to improve relations with one of the most pugnacious benevolent nations on earth. The People’s Government, realizing that a hard stance against Japan has not worked, created a team to look at ways to fix the problem with the island neighbor. The conclusions of the team: back off anti-Japanese rhetoric on Yasukuni, VJ day and Koizumi in general right before his replacement is determined. That’s all well and good, but perhaps China should look at their own textbooks if they want to temper Chinese anger. Even better, they can do something truly meaningful such as sitting that massive Chinese buttocks down hard on N. Korea to resolve the nuke and abduction issues. Sure, they may not care a whiff for those things, but it would certainly improve relations 100 fold with the country that has helped make their economic growth possible – and they wouldn’t even have to address territorial or drilling disputes.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July!

230 years of Sweet, Luscious, Wholesome Independence. Was that what Washington was praying for at Valley Forge?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Frederic Remington: sculptor of action

Remington is great not just at painting action, but sculpting it, as well. Rarely, does he present a bronze horse that isn't acting up in some manner. Often, the horse is a sun-fishin' son-of-a-gun. At other times, the horse is a chargin' fool. Regardless, it is obvious that Frederic had intimate knowledge of the equestrian physique:

The Rattlesnake

The Cheyenne

The Bronco Buster

The Outlaw

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Results are in for the "Next Finknottle Column" pool

Who had 2:08pm for Sunday, July 2nd? Nobody? I believe I had Sunday of next week. No winners? Then the prize will roll over to the next contest.

Incidentally, the staff at the Liverputty offices signed a petition to have Finknottle's slurry mechanism and word-grinder removed from the premises because of the odor it produces. Quite often, Finknottle vanishes for weeks on end after saying he's "out for a quick lunch" - and the slush eventually "turns."

A separate petition was also signed to insist that Funknostril bathe thrice weekly.